An avoidable distraction
September always brings a certain tranquility to the world of football when juxtaposed against the annual melee of deadline day. As the clock runs down on August, buying clubs rush to bolster their squad while selling clubs look to offload their expensive, unproductive assets. Indeed, since 2010 a remarkable 18% of business in the Premier League has been conducted in the last week of the window.
This reveals much about the nature of football – planning is hard, competition fierce and circumstance often dictates a requirement to act late. However, the extent of activity as the window closes suggests that choice plays at least some part in the lateness of the hour.
But by the time the window closes each year, 8% of Premier League games have already been completed – this is even more significant in the other UK football leagues, where 10% of games will be done.
This may not sound like much, but for clubs who will later be on the cusp of relegation or Champions League qualification for example, this might well be the difference between success or calamity. This is especially true of clubs whose first three fixtures are against rivals facing a similar context. Take Middlesbrough for example – their opening of Stoke City, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion were not only opportunities to enhance their own prospects but also to dent that of their rivals. These games are therefore crucially important games in the club’s quest to stay in the Premier League, even at this early stage of the season.
We can better understand this through assessing the number of points expected from the first three matches (which we can calculate using 21st Club’s statistical models by comparing the relative strengths of the teams) as a percentage of end of season projected points, based on the bookmaker’s spreads.
According to this metric, the first three games of this season were more important for Middlesbrough than any other team in the Premier League; that is, Boro were expected to win 10% of their season’s points total in their first three matches. Securing key signings early, as well as avoiding the unsettling impact that extensive transfer speculation can have on the team was key in order to improve the club’s chances of accruing valuable early points. It is likely to have been satisfying therefore to see Alvaro Negredo – the club’s star loan signing who joined early in the window – featuring prominently in their strong start to the season.
Amid the excitement of signing players, it is easy to forget that points won in August are just as valuable as points won later on in the season. And the distraction of signing a raft of last minute stars may just come at a price that can only be quantified once the season itself draws to a close.